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Purpose: Varenicline is an effective treatment for smoking cessation. While clinical trials did not confirm a causal role, case reports suggested a possible link of varenicline with neuropsychiatric adverse drug events (NPAEs). This study aims to investigate the risk of NPAEs associated with varenicline initiation among the general population in a real-world setting. Methods: We conducted a sequence symmetry analysis (SSA) based on the University of Groningen IADB.nl prescription database. We selected incident users of both varenicline and marker drugs for NPAEs, including depression, anxiety and sleep disorder within different time-intervals. Adjusted sequence ratios (aSR) were calculated for each time-interval. Results: Within 365-days' time-interval 1066 patients were incident users of both varenicline and NPAE marker drugs. In total, 505 patients were prescribed varenicline before NPAE marker drugs and 561 vice versa (crude sequence ratio [cSR] 0.90, 95% CI: 0.80–1.02). After adjustments for trends in prescriptions, overall a null association was found (aSR 1.00, 95% CI: 0.89–1.13). Regarding specific NPAEs, no increased risks were found for depression nor anxiety within any time-interval. A small transient increased risk was found for sleep disorders, particularly in earlier time-intervals 3 and 6 months (aSRs 1.52, 95% CI: 1.10–2.11 and 1.45, 95% CI: 1.15–1.83, respectively). Subgroup and sensitivity analyses showed similar findings. Conclusions: Varenicline initiation was unlikely to be associated with an increased risk of taking anti-depressants nor anti-anxiety drugs. Yet a small, but statistically significant, transient association with drugs for sleep disorders was noticed, possibly associated with withdrawal symptoms caused by smoking cessation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)158-166
Number of pages9
JournalPharmacoepidemiology and Drug Safety
Issue number2
Early online date31-Aug-2021
Publication statusPublished - Feb-2022


  • smoking cessation

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